June 17, 2011
Budget Talks Continue After House Approves Omnibus Budget Bill
Budget talks resumed this week after the House majority party stopped meeting with Senate negotiators to find a compromise on the state budget stalemate last week to pass a massive $25 billion budget bill.
In addition to the state budget, the majority party added a host of divisive issues that failed to become law earlier this year to the bill. Opponents of the bill called for the majority party to put partisan politics aside and reach a compromise with the Senate and Governor Branstand to close the 2011 legislative session, which is now six weeks beyond scheduled adjournment.
The omnibus budget bill, which includes all eleven of the state’s budget bills, appropriates $5.999 billion from the general fund in FY 2012, an increase of $650 million over FY 2011, and $5.894 billion from the general fund in FY 2013. The bill generally appropriates 85% of the FY 2012 appropriation in FY 2013 for most line-items.
The House also added another controversial proposal on commercial property taxes that shifts costs to homeowners and farmers. The bill reduces commercial property valuations by 25%, but only reimburses local governments for half of the lost valuation, which means homeowners and farmers will pay more in property taxes to make up the $347 million in lost revenues locally.
The bill passed the House on a party-line vote and now moves to the Senate for consideration. The House and Senate have since resumed budget discussions. The new fiscal year 2012 starts on July 1, 2011.
Flooding Continues Along Missouri River; State Closes Roads
Following weekend rains and the release of water from dams upriver, the flooding along the Missouri River is expected to worsen in the coming week.
Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota will be releasing 1.1 million gallons a second, which will cause the Missouri to rise a foot or more in the next week. The release comes after snowmelt and rain filled reserves. It more than doubles the previous record release from Gavins Point Dam. The surge is expected to hit Sioux City and Council Bluffs by midweek and southern Iowa by the weekend. The high water is expected to last up to two months.
The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division is working closely with the Iowa National Guard, Department of Human Services, Department of Public Safety, Department of Transportation, and Department of Natural Resources to ensure a coordinated response to the disaster.
Additionally, the Governor has declared Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury to be disaster areas. This proclamation allows state resources to be utilized to prepare for, respond to, and recover from the flooding along the Missouri River.
For more information, visit www.iowahomelandsecurity.org/disasters/disaster2011.html
For information on flood related road closings, visit www.iowadot.gov/floods/index.html or call the DOT flood hotline at 866-452-8510.
School Fund Raided
The House last week passed an Omnibus budget bill that provides $65 million less compared to the previous year for education, and is $55 million less than what the Senate passed. Education issues continue to be at the forefront in reaching an agreement in order for the Legislature to adjourn.
One of the less publicized issues within the latest House passed omnibus budget bill is a provision that takes money from school infrastructure tax revenues from the penny sales tax dedicated to all school districts (the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education or SAVE Fund), and uses it to provide property tax relief to a few school districts. As a result, 241 school districts will see a decrease in their school infrastructure funds from the sales tax to protect 102 school districts from a property tax increase. There are 16 school districts that would not be affected by the proposal.
The transfer is doubly hard on the property poor districts, because it takes a property tax levy six times higher than their wealthier neighbors to recover the loss. The decrease of the SAVE fund is a loss of $38 per pupil to every school district. The reason for doing this was to cover a miscalculated estimate of the amount of money schools would receive in their property tax relief dollars. Instead a providing more money from the state, the omnibus budget bill takes it from the SAVE fund.
Texting Fines Begin July 1
In 2010, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting texting while driving, but delayed the assignment of a fine until July 1, 2011. Since July 1, 2010, law enforcement has been issuing warnings for violations. In just a few weeks they will begin issuing tickets with a scheduled fine of $30. If a person violates this ban and is in an accident that results in a serious injury, they are subject to a fine of $500 or up to a 90 day license suspension, or both. If there is an accident which results in a death, the person is subject to a fine of $1,000 or up to a 180 day license suspension, or both.
Law enforcement cannot stop a driver only because they are texting; the driver needs to be violating some other law such as no seat belt, speeding, or failure to maintain control of their vehicle. Knowing that, the Department of Transportation does not want drivers to brush off the issue of texting while driving. Numerous studies have shown that today’s drivers can easily be distracted with the multitude of electronic devices. More information about this law can be found at www.iowadot.gov/CurbItClickIt/index.html.
Drivers Under the Age of 18 Years
Iowa law prohibits all uses of hand-held electronic mobile devices or electronic entertainment devices for drivers under the age of 18 unless the driver is at a complete stop off the traveled portion of the roadway, or unless the electronic entertainment device is operated through permanently installed equipment in the vehicle.
These restrictions apply to a driver which holds one of the following licenses:
Drivers 18 years and older are prohibited from using a hand-held electronic communication device to read, write, or send a text message while driving, unless the driver is at a complete stop off the traveled portion of the roadway. This ban does not apply to using a hand-held electronic communication device for making a phone call, or to using a global positioning system or a navigation system. The following persons are exempt from this prohibition:
Veterans Justice Outreach Program
As soldiers return from war, effects of their service can sometimes have negative outcomes. The Veterans Justice Program (VJP), a new federal outreach program that is now available in Iowa is designed to collaborate with local justice system partners to identify veterans who enter the criminal justice system and are in need of treatment services rather than incarceration.
For nearly a year now Iowa has required city and county jail personnel to ask if a prisoner is a veteran. If so, within 24 hours, the veteran may be entitled to a visit from a veterans’ service officer to determine if veteran services are required or available. In addition, within 3 days, the veteran must be provided contact information for the county veterans’ affairs office. The prisoner is allowed to contact the county veterans’ affairs office to request a visit.
Some of the services the VJP offers are direct outreach, assessment, and case management for justice-involved veterans in local courts and jails; assist with eligibility determination, enrollment, and referral to both VA and non-VA services upon release; training to local law enforcement on veterans' issues and offer strategies to help work with veterans; information and education to courts and attorneys about veterans' issues and services available; collaborate with judges and specialty courts to connect veterans to VA treatment services and homeless programs; and develop and implement separate Veteran Treatment Courts if need is determined.
For more information, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has created the “Guidebook for Incarcerated Veterans in Iowa.
Hearings Explain Dam Maintenance
To assist Iowans who own property with a dam – often a part of a farm pond or lake – as well as owners of larger dams, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting seven open houses across the state this summer in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). With more than 3,900 dams in Iowa, the DNR says proper maintenance is key to ensuring the safety and longevity of the structures.
The meetings start June 21 in Marion and will help answer Iowans’ questions about maintaining dams, constructing new ponds, fish management and stocking, regulations regarding dams, available technical and financial assistance, and water quality. Those considering building a new pond or lake, as well as professionals who assist landowners with pond construction and maintenance, may also want to attend.
Anyone interested in learning more about dam maintenance can stop by the following open houses any time between 3 and 7 p.m. to discuss their questions one-on-one with DNR and NRCS staff.
June 21, Iowa State University Extension Office, 3279 Seventh Ave., Suite 140
June 30, Fairfield Public Library, 104 West Adams Ave.
July 12, West Des Moines Public Library, 4000 Mills Civic Parkway
July 19, Lake Miami Meeting Facility, 1270 635th St.
July 25, Mount Ayr Rural Electric Coop, 1502 West South St.
August 2, Rock Island Depot, 102 Chestnut St.
August 9, Onawa Public Library, 707 Iowa Ave.
Governor’s Disaster Emergency Proclamations Assist Drivers
Due to the flooding in western and southwestern Iowa, the Governor has issued two proclamations: one to assist vehicle dealers and recyclers and the other lifts traveling restrictions in Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury counties. More details about these emergency proclamations can be found at www.iowadot.gov/emergencyProclamation2011.html.
New and used motor vehicle and travel trailer dealers, and vehicle recyclers must abide by laws and fees set out in Iowa Code relating to their principle place of business and additional lots. The Governor has suspended these requirements for 30 days, which will allow these businesses to move their vehicles away from their principal place of business. Dealer and recyclers in these affected counties should contact the Department of Transportation’s Office of Vehicle Services at 515-237-3110, Monday through Friday 8am to 4:30pm, or go to www.iowadot.gov/emergencyProclamation2011.html to obtain a temporary extension lot license.
Regarding commercial truck drivers, the Governor has suspended regulations pertaining to these areas:
Rebuild Iowa Office Closes
Iowa’s Rebuild Iowa Office will be closing its doors on June 23rd. RIO was established in 2008 to coordinate efforts to recover from the states catastrophic flooding and tornadoes. Those disasters affected more than 40,000 Iowans and resulted in a presidential disaster declaration for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Since its creation, the Rebuild Iowa Office served as the central location for disaster response coordination and information. Rio worked with local, state, and federal partners to help secure more than $4.3 billion in total recovery funding. The agency also worked directly with affected communities to help them establish and meet their recovery goals and served as a statewide clearinghouse for disaster recovery information.
Lt. Gen. Ron Dardis, former chairman of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission and executive director, stated that RIO has “resulted in best practices, benchmarks, and models for the nation." Lt. Gen Dardis cited the Jumpstart Iowa Recovery Initiative and the creation of a “one-stop shop” as two of RIO’s key successes. The Jumpstart Iowa Recovery Initiative provided financial aid to homeowners and small business people affected by the flood. RIOs “one-stop shop” gave Iowans a streamlined process for applying for a multitude of disaster related assistance programs.
Iowa’s disaster efforts are now coordinated through Iowa’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.